The time, attention, and/or money involved in coordinating the work of people in an organization are termed "transaction costs" (Shirky, 2008). In the "fishbowl" politics of many schools, a fourth cost - political and social capital - may loom larger than the rest. When there is a risk of high cost, collaboration opportunities are not taken; when costs escalate, efforts are abandoned, and closed-door classrooms result.
When collaboration efforts have been abandoned in the past, new ones are that much harder to initiate. It is imiportant to keep costs down while ensuring a positive experience. New technological capital can lower transaction costs by reducing the need for close coordination between colleagues, but organizational capital (effective training and facilitation, trusted administrative support) are equaliiy important.
The Empowered Teacher bring the best tools and practices of the open source community to schools, informed by decades of technology planning and professional development work with diverse districts. Together, we can make your next professional learning community project effective, empowering, and low-stress.
Promises, Tools and Bargains
Engaging faculty in the creation of online learning communities, given their busy schedules and the stress of learning new things that will be time-drains, requires clarity around goals and methods. Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations calls these Promises, Tools, and Bargains, and puts the bargain last, because the bargain matters only if there is a promise and a set of tools that are already working together.
Promise. The promise is the reason why we join or contribute to an online group.
- Do we believe in the goal?
- Do we want to participate in achieving it?
- Does the online method look like an effective way to meet this goal?
- How close is what we see happening so far with what we would expect?
- Is this going to catch on and grow?
Tool. The online group tool determines how the media will work.
- Does this tool look like it is going to help us meet the goal?
- Have I figured out how to use the tool, so that it can blend into the background?
- Does the tool help us do something online we couldn't do with email?
Bargain. The bargain sets standards of behavior and norms for and by the group.
- What bargain are we entering into if we join and participate?
- What is expected of us and what is the code of conduct?
- How do the users co-create the bargain of the group?
- What can you expect of others and what can they expect of you in this group?
- Do the users agree to the bargain and is it a lived interactive experience in the group?
The Empowered Teacher supports the formation of online professional learning communities with custom intranet tools designed for the work at hand.
“A collaboratory is more than an elaborate collection of information and communications technologies; it is a new networked organizational form that also includes social processes; collaboration techniques; formal and informal communication; and agreement on norms, principles, values, and rules” (Derrick Cogburn, 2003).
Our Collaboratory is a hosted (or supported, if your school has a LAMP server) solution built with Drupal, an open source project. It is the foundation of our work with schools.